NC State’s 0-for-15 drought turns potential rivalry upset into another UNC win

Michael O’Connell for 3. D.J. Horne. D.J. Burns. Mohammed Diarra for 3. Burns. Horne. Horne. Casey Morsell. Morsell. Morsell. O’Connell. Burns. O’Connell. Horne. Jayden Taylor for 3.

Fifteen straight N.C. State misses in the second half. Fifteen. Shot after shot after shot. A season hanging in the balance. A 10-point lead flipped entirely around the other way. A rare chance to win in Chapel Hill going, going, going, going, gone in 10 minutes of slow-motion collapse.

N.C. State was on its way to carving out a new and unexpected chapter in this rivalry with North Carolina, up 10 points in the second half, within arm’s reach of the kind of win that would defibrillate the thready, irregular heartbeat of its faint NCAA tournament hopes.

For 21 minutes, the Wolfpack couldn’t miss.

And then it could only miss.

Miss and miss and miss again.

Give North Carolina credit for never wavering even when it seemed like there was nothing it could do to stop N.C. State, a flashback in some ways to the debacle in Syracuse, but in the end the Tar Heels were really just in the right place at the right time to watch their opponent go on the kind of cold streak that makes casino magnates billionaires.

Let us turn to two sages of the hardwood to assess this 79-70 North Carolina win.

For the prosecution, Roy Williams, wearing on Saturday a sweater that melded UNC argyle with UCLA colors, and a proponent of the theory that shooting tumbles over whatever mental walls are supposed to contain it into defense and rebounding and hustle and everything, for better and worse.

“Guys, you know what I’m going to say,” Williams would say, and everyone did know what he was going to say. “Everything looks better when the ball goes in the basket.”

The converse is also true. As his one time rival, arguing for the defense, would certainly concur. Sidney Lowe often summed up the Wolfpack’s deficiencies under his leadership with one very simple maxim: “Gotta make shots.”

Gotta make more than none in 10 minutes, that’s for sure.

N.C. State missed 15 straight, from Morsell’s jump shot that gave the Wolfpack a 10-point lead early in the second half to Taylor’s 3-pointer that cut the Tar Heels’ lead to 10 just after the midway point. The Wolfpack shot 57.6 percent in the first half, going 7-for-11 from long range. It made only six shots of any kind in the second half.

The play that put North Carolina over the top, on the way to a lead it would not relinquish, summed up the Wolfpack’s second half collapse. Taylor stumbled while dribbling and fell slowly to the floor in stages, as if in stop-motion animation, his dribbles getting shorter and shorter as he approached the ground.

That was N.C State’s offense once the lead got to double-digits, a slow, inexorable procession to total collapse.

The Tar Heels came out of the scrum on the floor with the ball and Jae’Lyn Withers was left alone under the basket for a shot that was almost impossible to miss, although the Wolfpack certainly would have given it an honest go.

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